And the Award Goes to…

“Man’s sanctification is never to the glory of a man, as though man could glory in any holiness of his own.” – Martin Luther

One of my favorite times of the year in the media are the award shows. The red carpet, the fashion, the nominees, the winner, it is all exciting to see. When you hear, “The winner is…” you can’t help but think how that person’s life has now been changed. Each actor, designer, and director have been striving for this one moment. The moment to win the award to show they have made it. They have joined the other greats who have made the mark.

Those in film, music, theatre, and the other performing arts train to become the best in their field. They want to stand out. Others who do not win the award go back the drawing boards. Emotions of disappointment are worked through, and more plans are constructed as a scaffold is built in order to reach the award.

Awards are an interesting phenomenon in our culture. The ceremony of giving awards can be seen as way back as the ancient Greeks. Everyone wants to be recognized. And, everyone wants to meet the benchmark.

As Christians, is there a lesson we can learn in our own practices?

The Christian Award Phenomenon

You have probably been in a Christian school, institution, or even a church that has recognized someone and presented an award for Christian Character, Christian Perseverance, or Christian Service. Names are chosen for who is best exemplifying Christ in their lives. Many of the reasons for these awards is to provide an example to others around us.

You might be surprised to know that when I researched a history of Christian awards, I could only go back to the 1960’s. There were no records further back. Christian awards are a modern phenomenon. In comparison, the Oscars first started in 1929. They came about with the film industry. Christianity has been around much longer. Yet, Christian awards are not seen throughout church history.

The question must be asked, “Why is this a thing in Christian culture? Is it biblical to give out awards such as a Christian Character Award? What are the potential blessings and dangers as we think about Christian awards?”

The Bible and Awards

When we first think about the Bible and awards, we think of Matthew 5:11-12 claiming our reward is in Heaven. Crowns of life tease our imagination as an award found in James 1:12. Awards connate honor, and the biblical phrase “Honor to those you owe honor (Romans 13:7)” rolls right off the tongue.

Before we open the envelope to unveil the next winner, let’s consider the contexts of these award-giving passages. There are others, but I would like to deal with these popular passages.

Matthew 5:11-12 falls at the start of the Sermon on the Mount in the section known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus reveals what is meant by a blessed life. In the final two verses (vs. 11-12), He tells us that it is blessed to be persecuted. He says it is good to be glad and rejoice when we face persecution. Why? Because we have a great reward in Heaven. Notice the location of our reward: in Heaven.

James 1:12 is apart of a larger section in which James is writing about how to endure trials (James 1:2-18). Verse 12 is a promise for those who endure trials. God has promised a crown of life. Take note that it is God who is giving the award.

Finally, Romans 13:7 find itself in a discussion about the Christian and government (Romans 13:1-7). Paul is encouraging Christians to submit and respect their government. He even goes as a far as saying to pay taxes and give honor to whom honor is due. The context has nothing to do with awarding people. It has to do with our response to government and paying our taxes as one action in honoring our government.

When looking at two of these passages, we come to the conclusion that God is the giver of awards and they are not found on earth, but in heaven. In fact, Revelation shows us that everything we are and everything we gain can be cast back in honor of our Savior (Revelation 4:9-11).

Awards as a Benchmark

The unfortunate aspect of awards is that all do not receive an award. Yet, all Christians receive the award of eternal life with their Savior. So what are Christian Character awards? They are dedicated to those who display extraordinary Christian living. Recipients can be perceived as those who have reached a benchmark in their sanctification. It can almost be seen as having arrived at what true Christian living looks like.

Biblically speaking, benchmark sanctification is far from the truth. Paul (Romans 7:14-25) confesses his struggle with sin. He is a good example of one who could have said “he has made the mark” with his sanctification, but clearly confesses he is not perfect. He still has a long way to go.

This is a potential danger with Christian awards. We present them to the one who displays Christian character. However, for the recipient it sets up a potential pedestal of pride which can lead to a fall. There are many Christians nationally famous, and others who are not, which after a while of receiving an award for their Christian faith have walked away and led others astray. On the flip side, those observing can feel shame and frustration as they have prayed and fought sin, but still have not made the “award benchmark.” This may not happen in all situations, but it is a danger that can lead us astray in how we view sanctification. Our sanctification is about Christ’s work in us for the glory of God.

The Endeavoring Encouragement

As we have seen, awards come from God. Our Christian character is a working of the Spirit as we walk with Him, and not on benchmarking ourselves with each other.

What would happen if instead of awards, we gave the opportunity to give a testimony? Ephesians 4:19 outlines a way to encourage each other through song. Could we use the same principle and encourage each other through God’s working in our lives? Then we will be fulfilling Hebrews 10:24-25. Do awards really provoke us to love and good works? Or do awards spark a sanctification based on comparison?

Many people are famous in church history, not because they won an award, but because they died for Christ and proclaimed His Word. People to note in church history did not win an award, but voiced a Biblical response to bring Christians back to biblical thinking. It is not about winning an award that makes or breaks our sanctification or makes us famous. That is the world’s way of thinking. Christ is the one who makes our sanctification, and it is when we stick to the Word we can win the best award when we hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Sanctification and holiness is not for our own glory, but to give glory back to Jesus who saved us through an award-winning work where he receives the Kingdom and the title “King of kings.” Awards can be good, but it is better to hear “Well done” by our Savior than an applause of a crowd.

This Is My Father’s World

There is a signature of wisdom and power impressed on the works of God, which evidently distinguishes them from the feeble imitations of men – not only the splendor of the sun, but the glimmering light of the glowworm, proclaims his glory.
– John Newton

Some weeks ago, my wife and I were getting ready for church. My wife came into the bedroom exclaiming, “The cats are going nuts at the slider door.” We do not live on the first floor, so I thought it might be a bird. But there were loud meows and so we decided to investigate. We opened the blinds and saw a kitten sitting on the railing of the deck. She was quite small and dirty. Rebeca went out to investigate. The kitten hopped down and came right to her purring. It was going to rain that day so we brought her inside. She wasn’t small in size, but her weight told us she hadn’t eaten in days (possibly weeks). Our examination of her began. Dirt and bugs covered her fur. After an hour long bath and brushing, we got the bugs off and once brown fur revealed to be white along with her brown tiger stripes. Matted fur was untangled and soft again.

As we put her in a box with a blanket, the little kitten curled up after some food and went to sleep. After sharing with vets and other people this story, we were able to piece together this kitten’s story. This little one was most likely abandoned at 6 months old. She had probably been on her own for 2-4 weeks. Shelters were full. We were told that she most likely would be put down if a home was not found in a short time. Then Rebeca looked at me and said, “Why are we going to let that happen to this kitten, when she did nothing wrong? Why punish her for someone else’s lack of responsibility?”

We tend to use phrases like that when it comes to the issue of abortion. But, I had never connected it with an animal’s life. Yes, a human life is more valuable than an animal’s life, but can that phrase connect to animal life? These thoughts led me to search out what is the Christian’s life in relation to animals. Not only that, but what is the Christian and environment have to do with each other. Animal rights and the environment are hot button political and social issues in our culture today.

But the question must be for Christians, “What does the Bible say about animal life and the environment?”

A Quick Reaction is Not a Biblical Response

When most of us think about animals and the environment, some images come to mind. We might think of tree huggers stopping a company from cutting down trees. We might think of “Save the Whales” signs and cleaning up trash from the ocean. We might think of the ban of drinking straws or emotional UN speeches or marches for solutions to climate change.

We might even think of one political party or another. We might think of hidden agendas. We may look at the ban of drinking straws to help save the sea turtles, laugh, and then go by 100 straws just to prove a point. Or, we may shut down the issue as a liberal hidden agenda. A person may begin speaking about the environment or animals and we close our ears or throw out their ads or laugh at their commercials. These are not responses. These are reactions.

It may be possible that people are using the issue of climate change and animal right to hide an agenda, but we can’t think about that unless we have proof. That is a reaction. As Christians, we need to a biblically-based response.

Proverbs 12:18 says that a rash or reactionary word can hurt, but the word of a wise response can bring healing. Colossians 4:6 tells us to have our answers to anything be seasoned with salt and be gracious. This would include answering the issue of animals and the environment. Harsh reactionary statements turn away people. Thought out responses allow people to listen, and our responses can open the door to give the Gospel.

So what does the Bible say about the Christian’s relation with animals and the environment?

In the Beginning…

Genesis 1 has to be our place to start. Before we talk about the environment and animals, we need to start with verse 1. God is our creator. He created the environment all around us. He created the seas, the sunsets, the canyons, the fall colors, the cold snow, the high mountains. He created your dog or cat. He created the spiders, the fish, the birds, the lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my, there is much more to creation than us. We tend to see the awesome creation of our favorite place or animal, but God did create those mosquitos too.

The animals around us, and the environment we live in and enjoy came from God. He is our Creator, and he is their Creator too.

Our Place to Work

When we finally get to Genesis 1:26-28, we see how we are made in God’s image and how we are to be fruitful and multiply. However, have we skipped over something? We are given the job to rule over God’s creation. We are to be his ambassadors on earth.

In fact, in Genesis 2:15 God puts Adam (specifically places him) in the Garden to look after it and work in it. The first job humans had were to take care of God’s creation. That is the first command in Scripture to humans. We are to look after God’s creation. We are not meant for another world as some people would say. We were never created for heaven. Heaven is temporary. We were created for the New Earth (Revelation 21). Our God given place and purpose are on this earth and will one day be redeemed and found on the New Earth.

The Idolatry of Mother Earth

However, you might be thinking, “I know where this is going. We are going to become tree huggers and animal right activists.” Again, that is a reaction, and not a thought out biblical response.

Many people who fight for the climate and the animals refer to the earth as Mother Earth and having this one planet for humans. While it is true that we just have what God has given us for this life, we must address the issue of Mother Earth. When people forget God is the Creator of all animals and the environment, they tend to worship at the feet of Mother Earth. When anything replaces God as Creator and Lord, that is an idol. When we get too focused on animals and the planet and forget our other God given responsibilities and forget Him, we are committing idolatry. So, taking care of our earth and animals is biblical; however, if we are not careful (like with anything) we can find ourselves worshipping at the feet of Mother Earth -just like we can find ourselves worshipping the sermons of Pastor Pillow or worshipping the Town-Crier TV.

Consider a Biblical Response

Matthew 6:26 and 28-30 calls us to consider various things in creation. We are told we are more valuable than these, yet God takes care of them. God takes care of creation, yet he has given it to us to be his ambassadors and stewards on earth. This goes back to Genesis. Just as who God is, we are to follow and steward what is important to him. According to Matthew 6, creation and the smallest parts of creation are important to God. Therefore, they should be important to us.

So, it is good for Christians to take care of the animals around us and be good stewards of our planet (Proverbs 12:10). This is our earth given to us by our Creator to showcase his glory. Is it glorifying God to let litter kill his creation? Is it glorifying to God to abandon our animals because we don’t feel like taking care of them anymore? Is it glorifying to God to let our yards over grow and not look well kept? Giving glory to God is found in every aspect of our lives, and not just in our relationships with believers and unbelievers around us.

However, we cannot get carried away. We must take care of our families and the people around us. But, it is not an excuse to neglect God’s creation. We must have a balance.

Romans 1:20 states that all creation points to God. Why would we want creation to be destroyed when it all points to our creator?

Now I am not saying let’s go protest and give speeches. But, we can take care of our environment and animals. We can help the abandoned animal. We can help shelters. We can lessen our garbage. We can be good stewards of the earth and all that is in it. This is not a government issue. It is an individual issue. When we see who our Creator is, we will want to take care of his creation that he has entrusted us with.

When we stop reacting to the political and social issues and political parties, we can see what Scripture says about these issues and align our actions with God’s Word.

Psalm 24:1 says the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord. His glory is seen, not just in us as humans, but also in the creation and animals around us. He is their creator too. We marvel at God’s creation. Why destroy it with our reaction to political issues? Let’s go back to Genesis. Our first job is to take care of God’s creation as his stewards. God’s attributes and glory is seen from his creation. Let’s do our best that creation and our stewardship of creation can be a testimony to a dying world.

This is my father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my father’s world
The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their maker’s praise

This is my father’s world
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas
His hand the wonders wrought

This is my father’s world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet

– “This is My Father’s World” by Franklin L. Sheppard

Communion: In Remembrance of What?

“We ought carefully and with the utmost seriousness and consideration attend the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: this was appointed for this end, to draw forth longings of our souls toward Jesus Christ.”
– Jonathan Edwards

Preparing for a wedding can be a wonderful, yet a chaotic time. There are many details that go into creating a wedding. However when families find out a wedding is coming, it seems like everyone comes out of the woodwork. Everyone has an opinion about how a wedding should be done. The dress, the music, the vows, the rehearsal dinner, the reception, the invitations, etc. Each element has an opinion.

My wife and I have only been married a year-and-a-half. We remember putting together our wedding. We had ideas. Each family member had ideas. Each friend had ideas. Pinterest had ideas. Yet, one thing kept us going: our wedding was about celebrating us. Our wedding was not ignoring family, but it wasn’t about everyone. The wedding was about us and vowing to be loyal to each other and love each other as Christ has loved us, and be an example of a godly marriage to the world around us.

We did things some felt were “unconventional.” Yet, again, we wanted the wedding to celebrate the main thing: our marriage.

“Keep the main thing the main thing” is a popular phrase thrown around today. It is true that we need to keep a main priority on things that are important; however, sometimes good things tend to rise above and overshadow the main thing.

Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) is a sacrament or ordinance in churches that is celebrated many times throughout the year. Recently, my wife and I took part in our church’s observance of communion. As we were reflecting as the elements were being passed, a thought hit my mind and I began thinking.

“In remembrance of what?”

The Story of Communion

The night of the Passover had arrived. The disciples found an upper room to observe the celebration of the Exodus with Jesus. They gathered together. Reclining at the table, the disciples’ eyes were fixed on Jesus. He talked about suffering and not eating the meal until it was fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus took the bread. He gave thanks and broke it. Yet, His words spoke something unusual, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19).” After they had consumed the bread, Jesus grasped a cup. He gave thanks. Again, His words were unexpected, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20).”

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

The disciples did not realize that these words were not symbolic. These words became a reality not even twenty-four hours later.

Jesus the Son of Man, the Miracle Worker, the Great Teacher, the Messiah was arrested. He was tried, beaten, and flogged. A leather whip with ends of bone and other sharp objects ripped through his flesh like a lion tearing at prey. His beard was ripped out of his face. A crown of thorns was wedged on his head causing blood to stream down his face. He was unrecognizable. Yet, he did not protest. He freely gave over his body.

The bloodied Christ, burdened with a cross, was led out of the city to be crucified. His muscles were so weak and torn, that another man had to carry Jesus’ cross.

The soldiers arrived with Jesus at a place called “The Place of the Skull.” He was stripped and became vulnerable for all to see. His arms were pulled to each end of the beam while spikes were hammered through his wrists into the wood. His feet suffered the same.

Jesus, the one who healed a woman with the issue of blood, the one who cast out demons and put a man in his right mind, the one who saved a woman about to be stoned, the one who fed hungry souls was lifted on a cross for all to see. The soldiers then dropped the cross into a hole tearing his ligaments and dislocating his shoulders.

In agony, Jesus had to gasp for breath. In pain, he stretched his bloodied form to fill his lungs. After a while, he looked to heaven and said, “It is finished.” No more air entered his lungs. His kind eyes grew dim. Jesus was dead.

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

His lifeless body was taken down and buried. Yet, three days later. Jesus rose from the dead. He was not a spirit. He had a physical body and ate in front of his disciples. He lives. His disciples were changed and began to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world.

One thought permeates their message to the world, “My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

In Remembrance of… our Purity

The story of communion is sobering. We come to communion based on this story. However, what is it in remembrance of?

I have sat through many communion services and observed one thing that really sticks out – “Take time to pray and get your heart right before God. Christian, if you are living in sin, you cannot partake until you are restored with God.”

I Corinthians 11:27-32 is the basis for comments like this. Paul commanded the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were partaking in the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. Why? 11:17-22 gives us the answer. The Corinthians were abusing the Lord’s Supper. They were partying and stuffing themselves like a pagan celebration. There were factions among the rich and poor. The Lord’s Supper looked no different than what happened at the pagan temple. The Corinthians had lost sight of the purpose of communion.

Similarly, the pendulum can swing the other way. Have we forgotten the main purpose of communion? In our churches, we tend to belabor the point of repentance and being right before God that we make communion in remembrance of our purity before God. When we pass the bread and the grape juice (or wine depending on the church’s beliefs), we tend to figure out who took the bread and who has not. Our minds quickly race, “What is going on in his life?” “What is she hiding?” We tend to make communion a memorial of our purity before God.

Sure, we are not celebrating and abusing it like the Corinthians. But, we are making it about us. Communion is not about our purity before God. That is not the main point. When we belabor and focus on our purity and confession before God during the Lord’s Supper, we have missed the purpose of communion.

In Remembrance of Me

In the book of Luke (Luke 22:14-23) and in I Corinthians 11 (I Corinthians 11:17-26), a phrase is repeated: “In Remembrance of Me.” Twice in I Corinthians 11 it is repeated.

The main purpose of the Lord’s Supper is remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is remembering the incarnation, remembering his life, remembering how he redeemed us and signed a new covenant in his blood, and sealed it with his resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is in remembrance of Jesus as we look forward to his coming and restoring everything as he brings about the New Earth where he reigns and we are living like we were originally created to (Revelation 21).

We break the bread with our teeth, we drink the juice and we are to remember Jesus. Our righteous standing has nothing do with our efforts or the number of prayers given. It has all to do with Jesus. As we partake the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the new covenant God initiated in Christ. The temple curtain is torn. His blood is there for us to paint our doorposts with. It is all about him. We eat and drink communion in remembrance of him.

In Remembrance of Him… We Pray

Are we just supposed to throw out making sure our hearts are right before God? No. The Christian life is a lifestyle of repentance. The fruit of salvation is repentance. Too often we come to communion with fear of the judgement that comes if we eat in an unworthy manner (I Corinthians 11:27-34). Have we forgotten that in Christ there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1-2)?

We are not condemned. We are free from sin. This is why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Yes, we need to examine our live. But, we do not have to fear because we are adopted as heirs and sons of God (Romans 8:15-17).

When we remember Christ, we praise God for his salvation and we bow in humility as we know we do not deserve it. Communion is a reminder of our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we come to that realization we cannot help but repent of our lukewarm hearts. It is not out of fear, but out of longing for the satisfaction that Jesus gives. It is a longing to be with Jesus when he comes again. It is a longing to finally see our Savior face to face and touch the body he took on and kept.

So, shake off the spirit of fear. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial celebration of thanksgiving to our God. We repent because we marvel and remember the great work Christ did for us on the cross and in his resurrection.

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!
– Martin Luther

Saved unto a List or Saved unto a New Life

“Though there is not always grace where there is the fear of hell, yet, to be sure, there is no grace where there is no fear of God.”
– John Bunyan

This week I handed out the requirements for my students’ next project. As the students got the list, they quickly began looking at the details and what would happen if they did not fulfill those requirements. As I went over this simple sheet of paper, each one was frantically underlining, highlighting, and starring each point in order to not miss a single one.

A hand popped up with a concerned face connected at the end. “Mr. Field, what is the penalty of missing one of these requirements?” My response sent shivers down some of their spines, “I will return your outline back to you, and you will receive a late penalty when you turn it in corrected.” The seriousness of following the requirements set in, and since then I have had many students come to me asking to check their outlines to see if they are on track.

I pondered on this simple academic situation. It is not unusual for this type of experience to happen at the college level. Yet, there is an important spiritual truth to be seen.

The Great Gift of Salvation

It is no denying that the greatest gift God has given to man is salvation. We were dead in our sins, and we were on our way to eternal condemnation. But God, who is rich in mercy, saved us by His grace to a new life (Ephesians 2:1-10).

When we come face to face with the holiness of God, we see the wretchedness of our sin and the glorious forgiveness of Christ. It is only through the death and resurrection of Christ we can be fully set free from the burden and slavery of sin, and be made alive to God.

Do you remember the day you were saved? Do you remember the Spirit pushing the weight of sin on your mind? Do you remember not being able to do anything else but cry out to God for salvation? The moment of being justified and reconciled with our Creator is the sweetest thing in life.

Salvation. It seems so simple, and we praise God for it. But, have we missed the great gift of Salvation and unwrapped a false salvation?

Saved from Fear to… Fear?

Romans 6:16-18 states we are set free from the slavery of sin, and are now servants of God. Romans 8:15 claims we are set free from the slavery of sin and set free from a spirit of fear. Instead, we are given the spirit of adoption where we are now called the children of God and heirs with Christ.

Yet, have we listened to a “salvation” that frees us from a spirit of fear and, in return, given us a different spirit of fear?

I am talking about the list. Many in churches today see salvation as praying a prayer, and then following a list of do’s and don’ts their church culture made from application of Scripture. We will not admit to it, but we say a prayer, write the date down, and then we carefully follow the check list:
– Attend church services every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and
Wednesday evening
– Give to the church
– Read your Bible and pray
– Serve in the church
– Look the part for church
– Hand out tracts
– Give of your best to the master

The list can go on and on. Yet, when we doubt our salvation we turn to the date in our Bible and look at our checklist. We fear hellfire because we do not believe enough in a date or our fulfilling a checklist of chores.

This is not the spirit of adoption. This is not being saved to a new life in Christ. This false salvation is a belief in a date written in your Bible and your faithfulness to a list. This is superstition. It becomes about your work and your ability.

Following this mentality leads to being saved from fear of hellfire to being saved to the fear of your ability to believe and do enough. Biblically speaking, it is no different than the issue of the Galatians of trying to justify themselves through the works of the law (Galatians 2:15-16).

We no longer become servants of God. Instead, we are like puppets fearing what would happen if we mess up on our list and not hold fast to the date in our Bible. There is no grace in this attitude. We become more fearful of hellfire and the people in our churches, rather than being fearful of God and falling on our faces before Him to rescue us.

We have traded the burden of sin and death for the burden and fear of the church and a list of requirements. This is not salvation.

Saved to a New Life

So, what are we saved to? We already know that we are saved from the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23). We know this.

But, are we not saved to a new life to live a new way? Yes we are. The classic passage is Romans 12:1-2. Because of all that God has done for us, we are to be living sacrifices to Him. Because of Romans 1-11, we see the mercy and grace of our great God and Savior as He reached down and saved our souls when we could not help but die in our sins. However, we tend to get this passage mixed up. Our minds quickly breeze through verse 1 and go straight to “do not be conformed to this world” found in verse two. We look for what we need to do first. But, we need to take the passage exactly as what God gave us in His Word. We are to glory in the mercies of God and be. We are to be His living sacrifice ready for His will. There is no doing yet. We bask in his mercy and grace of no longer being condemned, but being adopted, and having a new life for God. This makes drives us to be a living sacrifice, and then begin doing. Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 2:20.

We no longer have to fear condemnation from anyone. We live, and have our being, and have our purpose in life because of the grace and mercy of God. Fearing God is not fearing hellfire. Fearing God is seeing who we are before Him, rejoicing in His work and gift of salvation, and living our lives for Him because of who He is. It is an awe in the God who is our Creator, Savior, Father, Justifier, and King of kings.

The Fruit of Salvation Lived

Oswald Chambers says, “The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” When we fear, we use a list as the “fruit of our salvation.” Then, when someone is not following the list, we quickly state, “You will know them by their fruit.”

The fruit of salvation is not a list. The fruit of salvation is repentance. Matthew 3:8 shows us that it is not about being from a family, or following laws, or completing a list. The true fruit of salvation is repentance. It is not just and one and done deal. Repentance is a lifestyle of constantly turning from our pride and sin to be our our God, and running to the cross to find forgiveness as we learn to live our new life in Christ. From this lifestyle, the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) blossoms from a once dead tree made alive through the blood of Christ.

A.W. Tozer says, “Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” We no longer have requirements. Instead, we live by faith because we see who God is and we want Him more than a list and more than anything in this world.

We are saved from sin, slavery and fear. We are saved to God, purposed in a new life, serving God in Christ, because of Christ. This is salvation. This is living our new life poured out from the grace of God.

All I was I lay aside now dead to sin
To God alive! Born again into a new identity!
Once asleep to God in sin, now wakened by the blood and cleansed!
Born again to be who He called me to be!
All I have I lay aside, run the race to gain the prize
For the sake of knowing Jesus Christ in me!
I cannot yet fully see all I’m truly called to be,
Knowing Christ reveals my hope and destiny!

He calls me child! He calls me to his side eternally!
He calls what once was lost now found, once bound to sin – now free!
He calls me holy! Calls me righteous! By the blood redeemed!
He calls me overcomer, crowned with victory!
This is my destiny!

What once bound me is no more! What was stolen is restored
By the resurrection power of my King!
What was old has been made new; lies and doubts replaced by truth!
What was silent now resounds, “I am redeemed!”

He calls me servant, calls me warrior; calls me royalty!
He calls me resurrected one! He calls me His redeemed!
He calls me higher, calls me for beyond my wildest dream!
He calls my heart to come and be all he can see!
He calls me chosen! New creation! Trophy of his His grace!
He gives me strength to fight the fight and run to win the race!
He tells me he delights in me while singing over me,
Accepting me as His beloved bride-to-be! This is my destiny!

– “This is My Destiny” by Dennis Jernigan

Getting into the Water: A Review of a Study Bible for New Believers

“In the divine Scriptures, there are shallows and there are deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim.” – John Owen

I remember sitting in French class in college not knowing what I got myself into. I felt lost and confused. I needed lots of help at the beginning while adjusting to this new study.

We all have been there. A new phase of life begins and we feel lost or confused and need help as we get started.

The new life in Christ can be overwhelming at the start. You gave your life to Christ. You are forgiven of your sins. You are now apart of the Body of Christ, the Church.

And, as the story goes… As soon as you make a profession of faith, someone hands you a large book called the Bible. You are told this is your guide to life. Read it, and study it with care. This is how you get to know Jesus and understand how to live your new life in Him.

Getting a Bible when starting your new life with Christ can feel daunting. The book is larger than most books you have read. There are many books within the Bible. The language may seem archaic and strange. How in the world are you supposed to study and understand everything in this book?

A Study Bible to Start Your Quest

Zondervan recently rereleased the NIV Quest Study Bible. This Study Bible is a great tool to start your new journey as a Christian.

The contributors on the Quest Study Bible have taken the task to create a study Bible that is understandable, easy to access, and easy to use for those who are new to the faith as they seek to know God through His Word.

I have personally used this study Bible in the past and have found it helpful in my Christian walk with God. There are so many aspects of this Bible that are beneficial to new believer that I would like to walk through a few of them as you consider this Bible as a tool to start your walk with Christ.

A Study Bible that is Easy to Understand

The NIV translation is a great place to start when studying the Bible. The language of the NIV is easy to comprehend as one makes their way through some of the tougher passages and long paragraphs. Paul can be confusing sometimes, but the language of the NIV can clear some of the confusion up.

Also, many of the other study Bibles have notes that involve Greek and Hebrew key words, deep theological notations, and other such things. The study notes in the Quest Study Bible are set up as questions. These are quite helpful when studying the Bible for the first time. Not only are the notes at a good level to understand the Bible, but the questions help the reader begin to ask questions of the Bible. This is a great way to begin studying the Bible with some depth. The questions are found on the side margins of each page and are linked with the passages next to it.

When one feels lost or confused with a passage, just look to the side and a question will help you on your way. The language of the study notes help clear the confusion, and at the end of the note are references to other passages and notes to help with clarity.

The study features in the Quest Study Bible aid new believers in the ability to study the Bible for themselves. Taking Bible classes or attending Sunday School classes on how to the study the Bible is great. However, the ability to study the Bible on one’s own time is a crucial skill for the believer. The Quest Study Bible‘s question format helps develop the individual’s skill of studying the Bible with clarity.

A Study Bible to Guide your Quest

When approaching Bible reading and study, many believers take a Bible reading plan, and by about the second month the feeling of being overwhelmed can easily set in. This can happen to new believers, and can cause great discouragement when starting out.

Those who put together the Quest Study Bible thought up a brilliant solution to this issue. In the front of the Bible (as opposed to in the back like many other study Bibles), the reader will find three different “courses” of Bible reading. Course 1 is an “Introduction to the Bible”. Course 2 is a “Guided Tour of the Bible.” Course 3 is “Every Word in the Bible.” Each course takes a different amount of time to complete. The Quest Study Bible‘s reading plans start with a good survey of the Bible and end with reading through the entire Bible. This is a brilliant pathway to work your way from the shallow end of Bible study and into the deep end.

Another helpful tool, that is found in the front of the Bible, is an overview of each of the books of the Bible. Understanding a brief statement of the contents of each book helps the reader develop a map to navigating each book.

A Study Bible to Keep the Motivation of the Quest Going

Lastly, a good study Bible will help the reader stay motivated throughout their study. Even though knowing God deeper and living His calling out to the fullest is the ultimate motivation for studying the Bible, a new believer has a different perspective. A new believer has just had their world turned upside down and needs help staying motivated in their pursuit of knowing God.

This is a great feature of the Quest Study Bible. When one begins a book, the first thing to notice that, instead of seeing who wrote the book, the question of why should I read this book is answered. Knowing the why can help motivate one to read each book of the bible – even the so called “boring” books of the Bible (i.e. Leviticus).

Also, sprinkled throughout like a trail of bread crumbs are the numerous vignettes of special notes (i.e. Top 100 Questions, maps, charts, and other articles). These help a reader dive deeper into the depths of God’s Word and interact with Scripture through the maps and charts. All of this helps keep the motivation throughout the quest to study the Bible.

Come on in, the Water is Great

New life in Christ is an adventure from salvation till we see our Savior face to face. Getting to know our Creator and Savior by studying the Bible can be overwhelming and daunting for new believers. The Quest Study Bible is a great way to start and a great tool to have on your shelf and on your lap.

Making God’s Word understandable, accessible, and usable is a challenge, and the contributors of the Quest Study Bible have done an excellent job. I highly recommend this study Bible to new believers as you start your walk with Christ. This study Bible will help you learn how to study on your own, and study deeper without the discouragement that can come as one begins to study the Bible.

II Timothy 2:15 says to do your best to handle the Word of God. This is a great study Bible to start just that.

The quest may seem overwhelming and wonderful starting out. Yet, the Quest Study Bible can help you take those first steps in Bible study.

Purchase the Quest Study Bible Here

*I received a free copy of this study Bible from BibleGateway to review as I am a member of their Blogger Grid

The Christian, The Government, and Living

“Most Christians salute the sovereignty of God but believe in the sovereignty of man.”
– R.C. Sproul

Have you read the comments on various news articles on Facebook? Doing this can reveal a lot about our attitudes toward government and where our government is going.

We see the 2020 election as a pivotal point in our American society. We hear words like “socialism” or “gun control,” and we take to our keyboards writing our opinions.

The pathway our government is going has become a headlining issue. We all have an opinion on this. You will hear one person decry socialism. Yet, another will try to show the benefits of it. There are debates, protests, and online fights over different government systems.

Our reactions expose a theme in our lives: the system of American government is important. However, is this a biblical priority for Christians? How should we biblically respond to governing systems in our country and around the world?

Christian and Government: The Biblical Data

What does the Bible directly say about government?

Thinking about the Christian and government, Romans 13:1-7 is the first passage that should come to mind. We see here there is an imperative in the Greek. We are to submit to the governing authority.

I Timothy 2:1-4 is another location where Paul writes about the Christian interaction with government. We are to pray for those in authority in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life.

Peter, also, mentions the government. I Peter 2:13-14 states that we need to submit to the governing authorities over us.

From these classic passages, we are instructed to submit to and to pray for governing authorities in our lives. In American culture our authorities would be the president, senators, governors, representatives, mayors, judges, police, teachers, employers, etc. Every day we live our lives under multiple layers of governing authorities. According to Scripture, we are to submit and pray.

Christians and Government: The Source

Even though we know the command to submit, we forget there is a divine source and divine sovereignty to all government.

Romans 13:1 reveals God bringing to authority those who he wishes. All governments and their leaders are instituted by God. This God is our Creator (Genesis 1). This God loves each of us so much that our sin needed a Savior (John 3:16). This God cares about individual sparrows and cares for us. We do not have to worry (Luke 12:22-34).

God is sovereign. God knows what is happening. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He knows what is best for us, and He will never leave or forsake us.

Do you think God does not know what He is doing when it comes to our government?

Christians and Government: A Lesson from the Past

Christians do worry about and voice their concerns of who is going to be in office. We cast our votes, we put signs on our yards, and we promote others to vote a certain way in order to keep one group (we deem evil) out of office.

In the early church, there was not much control of who was in office. The early Christians did not have a voice like we have today. Many of the emperors of Rome persecuted Christians. Religious freedom was not a denied right. Religious freedom for Christians did not exist until Constantine.

Christians were persecuted. Even in the book of Acts, Christians were hunted down as the most dangerous game. They were beaten, thrown in prison, crucified, beheaded, and ripped apart by wild animals.

While in prison for preaching the Gospel, Paul writes, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself (Philippians 4:11-12).” Paul used the circumstances he found as opportunities to give the Gospel and make disciples around him (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Democracy and religious freedom did not exist in Paul’s society. Yet, Paul was content. His goal was to bring Christ to others no matter who was the governing authority. The government was not the hope and foundation of his faith.

Christians and Government: A Lesson from the Present

I had the opportunity to listen to a pastor from a culture where it is illegal to speak about the Gospel openly. In his culture, Christians must meet in secret. Christians have concern for their safety. Christian families may be split apart and the father put in prison. There are consequences from the government like not being able to do banking or other business just for having a home church.

He was asked how he could have such a strong faith amidst such an oppressive government. His answer was quite thought provoking. The hope of his faith did not rest in the government. His hope was in his heavenly citizenship secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus sealed by the Holy Spirit. The citizenship in his culture came second to his citizenship in heaven.

This pastor is able to live out his faith with boldness, courage, and an open hand because his citizenship is sealed by the Holy Spirit. His government has regulations. Does the tightening down on these regulations concern him? No. His goal is to live for Christ. His faith does not rise and fall with whatever system of government is in power.

Christians and Government: The Challenge

Timothy Keller writes, “If the Christian faith gets too identified with a party, it reduces Christianity to a political position.”

2020 is coming. Republicans and democrats seem to be going at each other every time the news is broadcasted. We hear the words “socialism” and “impeachment,” and our emotions get going. We hear about people wanting to change the constitution and take away our rights. Our emotions start to bubble and our reactions come out. It seems like our faith is strengthened or weakened by what is happening in government.

Can we live as content Christians with the republicans in office? Can we live as content Christians with the democrats in office? Can we live for Christ whether the governing system is democracy or socialism?

We are commanded to submit, pray, and live. Can we be like Paul and this pastor living in a hostile culture and be content? Can we find opportunities to make disciples while living under a government system that is not our preference?

We tend to forget that God is sovereign when the ways of government do not go our way.

What is the hope of your faith? Putting faith in a political party makes a bad religion

We say God is sovereign, but we tend to live as if man is in charge.

“It is a most blessed thing to be subject to the sovereignty of God.”
– John Calvin

Cross-Fit Bodies: A Biblical Perspective on Male Body Image

“The most critical need of the church at this moment is men, bold men, free men. The church must seek, in prayer and much humility, the coming again of men made of the stuff of which prophets and martyrs are made.” – A.W. Tozer

Body Image. This is an issue that is becoming more and more visible for men. For me, it is a personal issue. Having a disability makes the issue of male body image hit close to the heart. Yet, I am not the only one. Men may not speak out about their struggle, but it is real. Even as I write this post, I am overhearing three different conversations where men are discussing body image in relation to working out.

Us men, whether we realize it or not, are constantly barraged with images and ideas of what our bodies should be like. We live in the culture of super heroes and celebrity eye-candy. Images of fit men like Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, John Cena, and Michael Phelps are celebrated as the specimen of good male body image. The cultural phenomenon of the “dad bod” is another way for those who do not want to be in the “fitness camp” to relate to their bodies.

We might not say this is a real issue for Christians to talk about. However, look at culture. Men are more and more seen for their bodies. It might not have been obvious 50 years ago, but it was still there. Look at movies such as Grease. There is a body image for men even back then. When we think about the church, there are plenty of books and conferences for women on the issue of their bodies, yet why is it that nothing is said for men?

Amidst the flashes of models, fitness programs, and celebrities, Christian men need a biblical perspective on how to view their bodies. This post will not cover everything, but I pray this starts a conversation encouraging men to sharpen other men to live a biblical life dedicated to Christ.

Back to Genesis

When talking about men and our bodies, we need to go back to creation. However, we cannot start with God making man. In fact, we cannot start with creation. We need to start with our Creator.

In order to understand a biblical male body image, we need to truly come to an understanding that we have a personable, Creator God. Genesis 1 reveals that our Creator is the Almighty God who can breathe creation into existence. He is in a relationship with humans from the beginning. Even after the fall of man into sin, our Creator promises a destruction of sin as he reconciles our relationship with Him (Genesis 3:15).

God knows us, and not just facts about us. Due to being our Creator, God is able to know us on an intimate level (Psalm 139). We cannot begin talking about our body image unless we realize that our body comes from being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Created with a Cross-Fit Body

CrossFit. What comes to mind? Do you think of guys straining to flip tires? Men drinking protein shakes? Mirror selfies showing transformation?

What is the purpose of working out? We tend to only see fitness as an aesthetic quality that we must possess in order to be considered attractive. Or, we react against the fitness craze and not care about our looks. But, what is the purpose in that? These two trends boil down to the qualities of aesthetics.

What if our male bodies were created for more?

When we talk about our bodies, we tend to hear sermons on Psalm 139:14. But, have we taken the time to read Psalm 139:13-16? It is not enough to marvel at God creating our bodies, but it is even greater to marvel in the fact God formed our inward parts, fitted together each physical aspect of our bodies for a specific purpose (v. 16).

God creates each man’s body for a specific purpose. Adam was created to work the garden (Genesis 2:15). The prophet Jeremiah was created for the purpose of being a messenger to God’s people (Jeremiah 1:4-5). In fact, Abraham’s body was created to show the glory of God’s miracle to bring about the nation of Israel (Hebrews 11:12).

God designed each part of our body, even the parts we do not like, for a this purpose. Abraham’s infertility was used to bring God glory through a purpose designed from the beginning of the world.

When we claim the name of Christ and live for Him, we have a Cross-Fit body. Our bodies are to be used to for the purpose God called us to. Your body can be used for purposes of teaching, constructing, analyzing, diagnosing, mentoring, writing, speaking, running, socializing, and even sexual intimacy in the context of God’s creation of marriage. Your body is not just a machine. It is the vessel through which we fulfill the calling of God that He created for us in Christ (Ephesians 2:10).

Using our Cross-Fit Body

However, how are we to use our bodies? Where does fitness come in?

Hebrews 12:1 shows us God’s race that is set before us. Usually, we talk about being spiritual fit for God’s calling in our lives. But, does this apply to physical fitness?

In order to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, we need to be physically fit enough to do what he has called us to do. Our bodies are used as God’s Temple. Can we glorify God with our bodies if we are physically unable to do what God has called us to?

However, there is another side to this issue. We should workout and be fit. Yet, working out and looking fit does not help us use our bodies. When we focus on looking good it is hard to step away from the mirror and begin using our bodies. That is the point of physical fitness. If we are unable to physically spend time with our families, fulfill our vocational responsibilities, or interact with the church due to us neglecting our physical fitness, then we are not honoring God. But if we are only working out to perfect our looks in order promote ourselves, we are still not honoring God.

The reason we have a body is to use our bodies. How are we physically preparing for the purpose God has for us?

Cross-Fit Community

But, all of this will not stop the struggle with body image. Satan is always warring against us. We battle against our flesh. Body image will never go away as a struggle; even if we are silent about it.

Paul tells us the church is to a place where we encourage each other in the faith (Ephesians 4:12). We are also told in Ephesians 6 that our struggles are not isolated from each other. We struggle together. The church is where we need men to open with each other and struggle together over every issue. God created our bodies. Therefore, is it wrong for us to talk about our bodies?

In order to encourage each other, we need openness and we need each other. Why would God create the church if we were meant to face the Christian journey alone? Community helps us refocus our minds on God’s truth – even with issues regarding our bodies.

The church is desperately needing men who are bold enough to open up about our struggles. When we allow the light of God’s Word to shine on every aspect of our lives we can fully live for Christ.

The struggle of body image affects many people. But, with the church’s commitment to the using of God’s Word, we can see men sharpening each other to refocus their thinking biblically, and begin living out God’s Truth.

It starts with a conversation searching the Scriptures and sharpening each other to use our bodies for God’s glory.

Our male body image is found in being created in God’s image for His purpose in order to bring God glory.